Not On My Watch

Image Source: Flickr madlemurs (Creative Commons)
In 2013, as part of the Not on My Watch campaign, Jubilee Australia began investigating irresponsible behaviour of Australian companies operating overseas, particularly in the extractives sector. They began looking at projects even if they were not implicitly being backed by the Australian taxpayer through the Australian export credit agency, EFIC. The move by Rio Tinto subsidiary Bougainville Copper Limited (BCL) to reopen the Panguna mine in Bougainville became JA’s first case study. Research suggested BCL’s actions before and during the Bougainville civil war in 1989/1990 were an identifiable case of corporate irresponsibility. And it happened on Australia’s very doorstep.

Two years since the Not On My Watch Campaign began, the situation on Bougainville remains as critical as ever. The pro-mining Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG) has been re-elected, and the issue of whether Panguna should be reopened remains at the heart of the political debate in the country. Soon, the Bougainville people may be voting on a referendum for their independence from PNG. The alliance between the current ABG and BCL to reopen the mine has continued, despite the fact that BCL has neither publically admitted nor apologised for its actions during the establishment of the mine and ensuing civil war which followed its closure, nor has it taken responsibility for severe environmental damage. The alliance also continues despite local sentiment opposed to mining.

The Jubilee Australia landmark report published in September 2013, Voices of Bougainville: Nikana Kangsi, Nikana Dong Damana (Our Land, Our Future), was the first study to engage the Panguna landowners regarding their feelings and whether or not they believed that the mine should reopen on their land. Jubilee’s analysis strongly suggested that the people from Panguna did not want a mine, possibly ever, and if at all, not until the wrongs of the past had been acknowledged and until independence, a priority, had been achieved. There was strong interest in exploring options that the community could control and develop, including agriculture, fisheries and tourism. The report was much talked about in Bougainville as these voices had not been articulated in a published global report before, and its findings are still hotly debated. 

If Jubilee had considered that the Bougainville case was a good example to showcase corporate wrongdoing without any support of the Australian taxpayer, it was sadly mistaken. Australia’s aid dollars have bankrolled landowner consultations that are necessary to try and win over landowner groups to the mine. They have also paid for ‘consultations’ with landowner groups and engagement with London-based Adam Smith International, the author of a new Mining Act for Bougainville that violates international conventions and the ABG constitution. 

In 2015/2016 Jubilee Australia will continue its work on Bougainville and further address issues raised in Voices of Bougainville. In October, Jubilee Australia Research Centre (JARC)  will publish research that examines elements of the new Bougainville Mining Act, claims about the potential economic benefits of the mine, and similarities that the current discourses to reopen the mine share with those in the 1960s.

Source: Jubilee Australia Media Release September 24, 2015.

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